green tomato tart

May 30, 2010

What to do when you get paid in green tomatoes?

At the end of a morning of playing music at the farmer’s market, we received a collection of  treats from many of the different vendors! Among the items was a bag of green tomatoes, and I took them home to try to make a green tomato tart. I had a recipe in mind that I wanted to try from Lee Bailey’s Country Desserts, one of my favorite cookbooks.

The crust was very simple, a mixture of flour, powdered sugar, and butter, pressed into the bottom of the tart pan. No rolling out, and it tasted delicious! I am going to remember this for other recipes…

Then I arranged apple and green tomato slices around, covered with lemon juice and dusted with a sugar and flour mixture. (You are supposed to use corn starch, but I didn’t have any.)

The recipe only called for three tablespoons of sugar in the tart. At the end you are supposed to add 1/2 a cup of blackberry jam. I didn’t have any blackberry jam, and wanting to use up something that I had in my cupboard I substituted a jar of spicy jalapeno pepper jelly. I wasn’t sure if it would go…green tomato, apple, vinegar, and the sharp bite of pepper, but it ended up tasting pretty good.


May 28, 2010

We found t.q. a few days ago on a gravel road. He (she?) was crossing, and I stopped the car right over him, got out, reached past the tire, and pulled him out! What a cutie. I think that he came right out of the turtle egg hole.

I took him directly to my dad’s house, and set him into a pool of rain water that he had sitting in his garden. It is the perfect spot. Partially shaded, and surrounded by flowers.

When I put t.q into the water, he seemed a little uncertain as to what he should be doing. It took a little time for him to figure out how to turn, and swim up and down. It was super cute! He has a tendency to tuck his right back foot in when he turns around.

t.q. has a little board in the middle of his pond to sit on and relax in the sun. Turtles can’t stay in the water all the time, or they will tire out!

To feed t.q., my dad went to Hy-Vee and picked up 15 cents worth of hamburger meat. t.q. didn’t eat any the first time, but after a few tries he took a mouthful. We feed him a bite, and then we set him back into the water to eat.

I think that he has already grown in the three days that we have known him.

Today my friend Jay and I collected two cars full of llama poop and used it to build our pumpkin patch. Llama poop, also called ‘llama beans’ is great for the garden and doesn’t burn plants. This means that it can be applied directly without composting. Great for people who don’t prepare their soil in advance (me…). We took the bins of llama poop home with us, all 9 of them, and built hills for our pumpkin patch.

Pumpkins like to live on the top of hills. To prepare our hills, we dug 20 holes, evenly spaced about 5 feet apart throughout our mulched patch.

We broke through the cardboard and dug down about a foot, and then mixed the soil (a bit on the clay side) with about 1/2 a bin of llama beans. This formed a little hill, about 1 or 1 1/2 feet wide. We placed some hills towards the edges of the patch with hopes that the vines crawl out into the grass. The preparation of the field was hard. We were trying to get everything finished before the rain, and practically gave ourselves heat stroke. And of course it didn’t even rain here yesterday…I heard that it poured in town, but we only got a few sprinkles.

We collected seeds from pumpkins last fall, and bought a few as well. Jay had jack-o-lantern seeds, and I had some squash seeds leftover. We planted long island cheese, austrian butter, and a few other types of pumpkins as well as two gourds, birdhouse and dinosaur (from Seed Savers). The patch map is on the back of a pizza carton, and shows where we have put everything. We still have openings in a few hills, and are planning on planting some of the giant, state fair-prize-winning pumpkin types…

Our friend Chloe also supplied us with some starts! Blue pumpkins, cinderella pumpkins, and warty gourds (her favorites)! The plants are already quite far along, and living in their own hills.

In each hill we planted about 8 seeds.

The strongest seedlings will be nurtured, and the rest will be pinched off…not sure if I will be up for the pinching off, but I guess that the strongest starts will make the strongest plants, biggest pumpkins, etc..

Here is the finished patch. Lots of hills or bumps in the straw. It looks like a mess of straw and cardboard here, but all I can see is a huge bright pumpkin patch! Super exciting.


May 23, 2010

My sourdough starter was tipsy last night when I pulled it from the fridge. If you let the starter go for a long time in between feedings, the sugar turns into alcohol and a layer of liquid forms at the top of the jar. The starter is totally fine, but super sour! I fed my drunk starter a cup of flour and a cup of water (as per usual) and set it out over night.

This morning I mixed most of the proofed starter with flour to form a moist dough, and set it out to rise under a completely soaked a tea towel. I wanted to leave the dough out all day to see what happened with the longer rising time. When I got home, the dough had reached the towel covering the top of the bowl (it was in a big bowl), and it felt nice and stretchy. It is my understanding that the longer rising time allows for more gluten develop, which causes the dough to become more elastic.

I kneaded the air out of the dough and formed it into a little loaf, and set it out to rise again. (The usual.) The result? Nice, even ballooning. When I put the loaf into the preheated dutch oven it fell a little, as usual, but maintained its shape well, and puffed up a lot during baking.

I nipped into a heel, still warm (a big no-no I know..) and it was nicely crunchy on the outside, with an even, lemony sour dough. Probably should have let it cool before slicing though. Good results, with timing that might work better for me.

1. Feed starter the night before.

2. Quickly throw dough together before running out the door to work.

3. Reshape bread when home around 6, and let rise.

4. Bake a few hours later. Finished around 8.

rose petals

May 22, 2010

Oh, I love making jam. And canning things. Especially when it involves picking rose petals. They smell lovely, and leave my hands smelling rose-like. And they are photogenic. I hadn’t really thought about that, until I found myself stopping to gaze at the roses, petals, and process of turning them into jam.

Rose petals are easy to pick. They fall off the bush, and in our case, there are plenty of them! The rose bush at the store is huge. Sprawling all over the place. When the front and back doors are open at the store, the roses waft through. Mmm.

Rose petals in the cauldron. They cooked over low heat for 30 minutes. The result was a mauve rose essence, and a clump of petals.

The inclusion of lemon juice brightened the color (and probably flavor too).

The lemon juice turned the mauve rose syrup a sharp, deep pink.

The petals re-added to the syrup, and simmered until the jam thickened. The lemon pips and pith help with thickening, and are contained in cheesecloth.

And, finished jam. I tried to cut corners and boil the jars in a smaller pot (as there were so few) but I ended up cracking one as I didn’t have a rack underneath. Not going to do that again…

I can’t help but be inspired by beautiful vegetables. Tired, hungry, and trundling inside through the rainy mist tonight with a box from my CSA. Unpack chard and basil, and beet greens, zucchini, carrots (straight into my mouth), delicate kale, letuce, cucumber, and three almost ripe, blushing mangoes!?

There is something about combining chard with basil that makes me happy. Especially when I add olive oil, and zucchini. And a few grains of salt.

Mix with pasta, and top with freshly grated cheese.


May 19, 2010

I was sitting on my porch this afternoon, enjoying the sunshine, when I heard a very loud collective buzz, or hum. I looked to where the sound was coming from, and up in the trees I saw a swarm of insects. I wasn’t sure what they could be, and I called my insect expert friend Moni, and she had the answer right away..bees! In the spring, new groups of bees venture out of the hive searching for new territory. They are accompanied by a new queen bee, and they travel in a football or basketball (or larger) sized swarm. They travel until they find a suitable home (or until someone bee-naps them and takes them to a hive).

Moni suggested that I call some people south of town that come and collect swarms of honey bees for raising honey, and I gave them a call. By the time I had made the two calls, the bees already settled in a tree by my house. I almost couldn’t find them anymore. The cloud and loud hum were gone, and all that remained was a gentle buzz, until I reached the actual tree. When I got right up close, the bees appeared to be busy inspecting several holes in the tree. They were moving quickly inside and out, with a little cloud of bees constantly hovering around the opening.

On the ground, several ants were carrying dead bees around, and other bees, possibly very tired, were crawling across leaves. And the whole place started smelling like honey! Heavy, sweet and delicious. Please stay bees!

Bees are fascinating stuff! I am going to check in the morning to see if they are still there. My sister suggested that we watch them over the summer, fall, and then in the spring wait to see if a new swarm heads out in search of a new home. It would be great if we could set some up for honey production! (That is Heli’s department.) For now, I am hoping to keep these bees, and have them stick around to pollinate our fruit trees and pumpkin patch (all located right near by)! I just checked this morning, and the bees were still there. Yes! According to my sister, there are groups of searcher bees, and they find the new home as the bees are swarming. Once they land, that is it.

Sometimes towns are lucky enough to have a small, local, organic dairy. The town where I live is one of those lucky towns. Our dairy, Radiance Dairy, is run by Francis and Susan Thicke, and it provides probably the best milk I have ever had.

Every time I grab a cup of milk for tea, or mixing up pancake batter, or topping my oatmeal, I know that the source of the milk is a herd of very well taken care of and well fed cows.

The operation of Francis and Susan’s grass-fed dairy is based on the principles of ecology. Specifically, the cows are rotated through paddocks on the farm, imitating the grazing of bison on the prairie. The carefully managed plan of rotation allows for the cows to be fed on a healthy and diverse diet of grasses. The rotation plan also benefits the land through increased biodiversity and improved soil fertility.

Francis is running for Secretary of Agriculture for Iowa.  He has a vision of how to improve agriculture on a state and national level based on the effectiveness of nature, supported by advances in science and technology. Radiance Dairy is a working example of this vision.

Francis needs support, and it is easy to give money to his campaign. This is something that is so important for our state, country, and for the environment in which we all live. For more information, visit Francis’ website


May 11, 2010

Erika taught Heli and I how to make crostata in Italy. She showed us how to make it in pretty much the same way her mother (and probably grandmother, etc, etc.) made it. Erika made one exception, she melted the butter. Somehow she was able to pull it off, but when I tried to repeat this feat, I ended up with a very very hard tart…

So Heli and I cut in the butter. And then add an egg, and a little milk, and let the dough chill. If you have an extra jar of jam, this is the perfect desert. Sweet, but not too sweet, and fresh with the zest of a lemon in the crust.

We made ours with Heli’s apricot jam. With the left over dough we made a mini crostata with pear butter.

We latticed the tops, and drove the tarts into town to bake at the store (again..).

We had a little tart for my mom’s birthday, and snacked here and there for the rest of the afternoon…

bird crackers

May 11, 2010

My sister and I made bird crackers a few days ago. We found the recipe in a Good to the Grain, a book that we just got into the store (my sister’s recommendation). The book includes recipes for quite a few different whole grains including bird crackers, which turned out deliciously! (We made them specially for my brother who was studying for finals over the weekend.)

Bird Crackers are basically glorified pie dough, if you ask me. The recipe calls for “regular” (wheat) flour and barley flour. We added butter, sesame seeds, poppy seeds, and a little sugar.

We substituted cheese for grated hard-boiled egg yolk, as we (at least I) just couldn’t really wrap our minds around this combination. The cheese was delicious anyway.

The crackers are rolled out (one time only for truly flakey crumb), cut into rustic pieces, and brushed with milk and topped with sea salt and extra sesame and poppy seeds.

We baked the cookies in a toasty oven, and tested our two cookie sheets to see which was better. The fancy All Clad beat out the plain old (good and sturdy) cookie sheet hands down! I was actually surprised at how well it worked! Even baking, delicately crispy edges, etc…